This time of year, lust for buying bursts forth, and I freak out because gifts are not my love language. In order to give an alternative to consumerism seizing hearts and credit cards, here’s a story that just happened in my 7th grade classroom to make you smile, tear up a little, and perhaps even rethink what people value.
All names are changed to protect the identities of those involved, and I’m illustrating this article with photos I took around our school and around Boston over the past few months rather than revealing faces. To my students who may read this: Thank you for being so awesome! You inspire us.
So here’s the story. My Term 1 final exam was as follows: Present to the class, in a creative way, the most important or interesting thing you learned since September, either inside or outside of school.
Students took the assignment and FLEW, belting out art, dances, songs, poetry, and skits that sent us into fits of applause as we reflected on how much we’d grown in the past two months.
But the major moment came on day 3 of presentations in my most rambunctious class. (The wildest classes often do the best with free-form projects like this one. Their energy pours into expression.)
In this moment, a student named Zane unveiled his project: A hand-drawn picture so beautiful, the entire class gasped and sprung to their feet.
While I cannot reproduce the drawing here for privacy, know that it showed a rainbow-colored boy hugging his headphones to his ears, pulsing in color as darkness tried to push in around him. Zane used a blending tool (rolled cardboard) to melt the hues into one another. He explained that the drawing showed how music keeps him going through dark times.
Straining on their tippy-toes to be seen, the students began spontaneously bidding for Zane to gift them his artwork.
“That drawing is so beautiful,” yelled Peter as he threw open his wallet, “I will give you money for it right now!”
“If you give it to me,” hollered Annie, “I’ll frame it in my house and look at it every day.”
“I love that drawing so much,” Aiden shouted, “I will put it online so everyone can see it and praise what an amazing artist you are!”
Zane gazed out at the adoring, eager faces, the outstretched wallet, and the reaching hands.
“You have reached an important turning point,” I said to Zane, but also to the class. “At some time in our lives, we must all choose what we value most for our work. Zane, what do you desire above all: Money, Honor, or Fame?”
Zane beckoned me to come close so he could whisper something in my ear. He told me his choice and I grinned.
“Zane has made his decision of who will get his drawing!” I declared to the class. The students all grew silent, eyes yearning.
“He will gift his art to a student who did not make a bid, but provided something of value nonetheless,” I continued. The class looked around, confused.
“Zane has chosen to give his drawing to Gracia, the girl who read her poem earlier today and made everyone cry. Zane wanted his art to go to the person whose art moved HIM the most, in turn.”
The class erupted in cheers, because they knew Zane’s decision was right. Gracia’s poem had been personal, insightful, and powerful beyond measure. She deserved to take home the drawing.
Given the choice between money, honor, and fame, this student from my most rambunctious class had chosen love. Would we do the same?
This project was the best thing I’ve done in my 14 years of teaching, and I’ll do it again soon. It reaffirmed the lesson that creativity, art, and human connection are the core of education… and of being human.
It also reminded me that being a teacher can be the best career in the world. What a privilege to be able to work with such brilliant, compassionate, and insightful young people!
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